Voters Approve $104 Million Operating Budget with Few Questions; School Budget Passes Unanimously

Annual town meeting Saturday approved spending more than $120 million on municipal and school operations and projects.

Almost all of the expenditures, including $43.6 million for education, passed without comment or question.

The only real expression of concern focused on the article proposing a $2.5 million bond to replace the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system at the Bedford Free Public Library. And that amounted to a handful of questions.

The $103,921,509 operating budget was approved on a hand vote, with almost all of the questions emanating from Walter St. Onge, a former Selectman and Finance Committee member.

In answer to St. Onge’s question about plans for anticipated federal aid under the American Rescue Plan, Finance Committee Chair Steve Carluccio repeated the School Committee’s pledge that federal and state money will be expended before local funds.

Carluccio responded to another inquiry, explaining that through the use of reserves, the likely average residential tax increase for the coming fiscal year should be around 3.5 percent.

Indeed, later in town meeting, voters moved $1.9 million from the stabilization fund into the Finance Committee reserve fund. That money represents a “recovery budget” approved by the School Committee, some of which it is hoped will be covered by federal aid. So far, the school business office has confirmed learning of more than $358,000 targeted for Bedford.

Town meeting also approved transferring $7,125,470 from free cash, which helps to manage any tax increase.

The library HVAC article, postponed for a year because of the streamlining of the 2020 warrant, “seems like a lot of money to replace a system in a building that’s only 20 years old,” said resident Dan Churella. “What’s wrong with the system there that needs to be replaced?”

Select Board member Emily Mitchell replied that the library actually has two HVAC systems “and they fight each other. There has been one catastrophic failure in the past year.” She added that the life span of the equipment was 20 years. (The original library building was opened in 1968 and the addition in 1999.)

More than a year ago the proposal was revised so the equipment would operate with minimal greenhouse gas emission. The change in technology increased the price tag by $1 million; resident Kyle Smith asked about the impact of that differential on a taxpayer. Margot Fleischman, Select Board chair, said that the impact can’t be calculated until the terms of the bond sale are known.

Wayne Jackson of Richard Road asked if this new system would have allowed the library to remain open during the pandemic because of increased air exchange. “I don’t think we can answer that question,” Mitchell said.

The required two-thirds minimum was evident enough so that Moderator Betsey Anderson called the outcome visually.

She made a similar decision on the vote for the $4.1 million bond for police station expansion and renovation.

Dan Bostwick, representing the Energy and Sustainability Committee, commented that both projects represent the town’s commitment to net zero emissions.

The total police station project cost is $6.4 million. Fleischman said the source of the $2.3 million already available is federal grant money.

Town meeting also approved almost $19 million in other capital projects, of which more than $7 million will be financed by bond sales.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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